“…And the winner is…. NEBRASKA!”
The words rang throughout the building as the audience suddenly erupted and sprang to their feet.
And in that moment, my life was changed forever.
The next day, I woke up early to sign contracts and meet with the executives before jumping on a plane straight to New York City for a week of national media.
From there, the entire year continued on at a breakneck pace. I traveled almost 200,000 miles that year, visiting 36 states and 5 countries, clocking almost 200 flights and spending a total of 335 days on the road.
It was exhilarating yet exhausting, fulfilling yet draining. However, I soon found that of all my responsibilities and concerns during that year, my health was the one I had ignored.
I had graduated high school at 17 years old and won Miss Nebraska two weeks later. Six months after that, I won Miss America. All throughout my life, I had been extremely active, dancing for almost eight years throughout middle school and high school, and later competing in gymnastics for four years as well. Staying healthy was natural and simply a part of my lifestyle.
Before becoming Miss Nebraska I had never picked up a weight, used gym equipment or taken the time to think about nutrition. When I competed for Miss America, I learned how to use a few machines at the YMCA and gained a little better understanding of nutrition along the way, but ultimately, I thought that my active lifestyle would be enough.
So there I was: a 17-year-old with no real workout or nutrition experience, a newly crowned Miss America, traveling the world on a hectic schedule. Basically, my days consisted of a breakfast meeting with this person, a luncheon with that group, a cocktail hour, a dinner with this association, etc. My speaking engagements and appearances almost always involved food, and lots of it! If I was stressed, I would get back to my hotel room late at night and order everything chocolate on the room service menu I could find. I sacrificed workouts for sleep; there wasn’t time for both. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself. I didn’t recognize that the stress, exhaustion, moodiness and more were probably due largely to my unhealthy lifestyle.
I didn’t realize it, that is, until about six months later.
We were now into the summer months, and my job included going to some of the state pageants, where I would need to wear evening gowns and cocktail dresses. I went to get fitted and found myself wearing a size 10; I had previously been a size two (Now, keep in mind that size two truly was my natural healthy size; it was what I fit when I wasn’t even trying, but was just active and healthy).
I was confused. What had happened? I weighed myself. I had gained almost 30 pounds in just six months!
I felt helpless to do anything. I knew I felt tired all the time and was slipping into depression, but I didn’t really connect it to my physical health. I paid a little more attention to what I was putting on my plate, but overall, the worse I felt about myself, the worse nutritional choices I continued to make. I was frustrated with myself for being so apathetic and knew I was walking a dangerous road.
Finally, months after giving up my title and entering college for my first year as a new freshman, I decided it was time for things to change. Many people become the most unhealthy and sedentary during their college years. I had already done that for the past year and a half; I was done.
I was introduced to the Project 10 Challenge from a healthy lifestyle company called ViSalus that fall, when a fellow pageant contestant challenged me to lose my first 10 pounds. 10 pounds? That sounded a lot more feasible than 30 pounds. I accepted the challenge and started my journey.
Those first few months, I only made small, simple changes. I was busy with school and was still traveling and speaking extensively. I didn’t have much time, so I simply started drinking two nutritious protein shakes each day, eating two healthy snacks, and then having a balanced dinner. It was an easy, straightforward plan that was much healthier than my previous three-huge-meals-a-day-and-lots-of-junk-food plan! I also started working out for about 30 minutes a day. It didn’t matter what type of workout I did but it was important to do something active every day. With the support of my family, friends and my playlist my motivation grew.
In my first 90 days, those 30 pounds were gone. I was honestly amazed. I hadn’t even realized how my small, simple changes had added up over three months. I knew there was no way I was stopping there! My confidence was growing, my body was slimming and, most importantly, I was smiling a lot more.
By my sophomore year in college, I was ready to take on some new challenges. I had become passionate about my fitness journey and especially interested in learning more. Over the next few months, I studied and earned my Personal Trainer Certification through NASM and continued to tighten up my nutrition plan and my training regimen.
At the start of 2014, my goal was to gain muscle and the six-pack that I had never had. Growing up, I was always the “skinny” one. As a kid, I had spindly arms and legs and could never seem to find a muscle anywhere on my body. My new 90-day goal was to find those muscles!
I learned the Project 10 Challenge puts on a competition every year where they award one male and one female the coveted “Vi-Model” title and serve as the company’s representative. I loved the challenge so much and how it helped me over the past two years, so I decided to push myself even more by entering the competition! I was ready to fight for another title.
Over those three months leading up to the competition, I lifted weights like never before. Like many other females, I had a unique aversion to lifting. Soon, though, I began noticing that it was producing the toning and leaning results I desired in my arms, my legs and even my abs.
My understanding of nutrition was developing as well. I realized that I had previously been thinking of food in terms of “dieting,” rather than recognizing that every week of my life, I should simply have a plan for what I eat. I’ve found this to be the single most important element of any healthy lifestyle: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I will continue to always have a meal plan throughout college and throughout my adult life. A weekly meal plan is not a diet. It’s a way to take all the guesswork out of being healthy and to stop obsessing over food.
The time leading up to the Vi-Model competition was a totally different experience than my time preparing for Miss America those three years ago. I felt like an entirely different person: I now knew that I was taking care of my body. I felt better than I ever had. I saw muscles I had never seen on myself before. I had so much energy and was so incredibly proud of all I had accomplished.
It wasn’t easy. It certainly wasn’t fast. It was quite a journey. Honestly, after Miss America, I had never in a million years expected to be on stage in a bikini once again. I truly never even realized what my body was capable of until that point. Before the results of the competition were even announced, I resolved one thing right then and there: I would challenge myself for the rest of my life. No matter what, I would never be apathetic about my health again. I would never make excuses. From that point on, I would spend every day, every month, and every year of my life improving. I would be a healthy role model to others by leading by example.
After all, that’s all that matters. I’m far from perfect. But I set challenges where I compete against myself: to improve myself every day. To make at least one choice daily that impacts my health in a positive way. It doesn’t matter how many times I mess up, fall down or feel like quitting. It only matters that I pick myself back up and try again. All that matters is that I am always setting new goals and new challenges.
If I can do this, I know anyone can. It’s just one step at a time. We all want instant results and quick fixes. But the satisfaction lies in the struggle it requires. I learned to keep challenging myself, to never give up. You never know what you might be able to do.
And by the way, I won.
Teresa Scanlan is the winner of Miss Nebraska 2010, Miss America 2011, and ViModel National Champion 2014.
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